As part of Mental Health Awareness week, I was very grateful to be approached by Erica who agreed to answer some questions and share her story into getting diagnosed with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Erica is an inspiration to myself, and I am very proud of how far she has come in the short time I’ve known her. Erica is a Harry Potter fanatic who loves to read, colour and support the Mental Health Community. Erica is a wonderful, supportive person who is trying to open up more about her Mental Health in the hope that she can help someone out there who is suffering.
Trigger Warning: Brief mentions of suicide and self-harm.
When did you first start to notice Mental Ill Health symptoms?
I first realized that my mental health wasn’t great when I was a teenager, a teacher made me realize that feeling like I wanted to die was not a normal way to feel. Since my teens, I have been treated several times by my GP for clinical depression and anxiety. The most recent time I realized that I was beginning to struggle again was around the end of September 2016, I got upset in my slimming world class because I realised that I didn’t care if I lost or gained weight because I didn’t want to be alive anymore. That was my first realisation that my mental health was declining again.
How long did you suffer before speaking out and why?
This time it took me several months before I was able to speak out and admit to anyone that I was struggling with my mental health. Prior to this decline, I felt the happiest I’d ever been, I had lost 10 stone in weight, my confidence and self-esteem were higher than they’d ever been in my life, I felt like I’d finally learned to love myself for the first time and everyone in my life was telling me how amazing and inspirational I was. This was a big part of the reason why I didn’t admit to anyone that I was struggling, everyone kept telling me how inspirational I was, but I didn’t feel like I was living up to or could live up to everyone’s expectations of me, the self-doubts crept in and the more people complimented me, the more I began to doubt my ability to be this amazing person people seemed to think I was. I was also scared of letting everyone down, of disappointing everyone around me, so I kept quiet about how I was feeling, and carried on like everything was fine. I spent a few months like this, pretending I was fine, carrying on like normal while inside I felt like my whole world was crumbling around me. I was just too scared of letting people down to tell anyone how I really felt.
When did you start the process into finding a diagnosis and how did you find it?
Initially, I sought out counseling via a charity that I had worked with in the past, this was around February time, I thought that by talking things over in counseling I would be able to get myself back to feeling ok again. By May, however, it was clear to me that this wasn’t going to be possible and that I needed to reach out before I did something that there was no coming back from. I was living day, today, the intrusive thoughts I was experiencing were bombarding me and I was terrified of myself, I spent hours planning my suicide and hours battling the urges to self-harm or do something dangerous. I work checkouts and I remember clearly sitting at my checkout and being unable to engage with any customers because the fight in my head was too loud for me to even focus on anything else. By that point, my concentration for tv or reading was pretty much non-existent too. I realised that day that I was no use to anyone in the state that I was in, I had 2 choices, I either reach out and ask for help, or I let the thoughts take me once and for all. I’ll never forget how broken I felt, crying on the phone to my husband, begging him to save me from myself. He took me to see my GP, initially, I was started on medication and signed off work for a few weeks.
This was the beginning of an 8-month journey towards a diagnosis, a journey that involved weekly GP appointments, weekly therapy sessions with 2 different counselors, several referrals to mental health services, a referral to inclusion matters, intervention from social services, and finally an assessment with a psychiatrist. I found the process on the whole totally draining because I was being told so many different things, I might benefit from going inpatient, I simply had depression and nothing more, I was too complex for my GP to help me. If I didn’t have the support of my husband at that time, who came to every appointment and meeting (except my therapy sessions) with me, who was my voice when I couldn’t find the words I needed, he got me through those 8 months and I’m so grateful that I had him there fighting my corner, insisting we didn’t get turned away or dismissed.
Did you have a hunch of what your diagnosis might have been?
Initially, I didn’t, I was told by my GP that I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorder and I don’t think she thought there was any point in me seeing a psychiatrist as she had already told me why I was struggling. I had an idea that I probably had PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder, as I had a history of traumas in my past which caused me to struggle with flashbacks and panic attacks, I also learned during this time that I dissociated myself from my emotions a lot, in order to deal with trauma I was somehow able to disconnect my emotions from the trauma so when I spoke about it I didn’t link the traumatic memories with emotions.
I’m not sure why we pushed for a diagnosis, I’m not sure what I thought I was going to gain from the experience, but I just felt that what I feeling was more than just depression or anxiety like the GP was saying it was. I just desperately wanted answers or an explanation for why I felt this way, and how to get better again.
What was your initial reaction to being diagnosed with BPD and PTSD?
When the psychiatrist diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, my first reaction was a relief, finally an answer, something that could explain my symptoms and the way I was feeling. That day the psychiatrist told me to google BPD when I got home, and do some research while my referral to the complex needs team was going through.
Did you research your diagnosis? What did you find out about BPD and PTSD?
I did, because my psychiatrist had told me too, I thought I was being clever and only looked at what I believed to be helpful sites like Mind and NHS direct. (I’m not saying these sites are not helpful, but the information regarding BPD was not what I expected to find.)
I found out that BPD can be a controversial diagnosis because of the stigma attached to Personality disorders. People believe that those with BPD can be manipulative due to the fear of abandonment, have intense rages or temper tantrums due to the unstable emotions and are attention seekers as self-harm and suicide attempts are really high in BPD sufferers. Everything I read about the disorder just seemed so negative and instantly I went into panic overdrive, I felt awful. I had waited so long for a diagnosis and answers and now it felt like I’d been handed a life sentence. I was already in a bad place so I couldn’t see any of the potential positives of being diagnosed with BPD. Within days of my diagnosis I took an overdose and ended up in A&E, I didn’t think I could live like that anymore. Luckily the psychiatric liaison team was fab, and they contacted the complex needs team to rush through my appointments and get me started on the road to recovery.
What actions did you take moving forward with your recovery?
Moving forward I began to meet up weekly with the coordinator of the complex needs team, she put me in touch with a recovery mentor at the centre. (a lady like myself who had been diagnosed with BPD and had engaged in treatment and been through services who was now leading a stable life and helping others.) I was accepted into an intensive outpatient therapy twice weekly, one session was DBT or Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, and the second session was a one to one therapy session with a psychologist. DBT is a group therapy which teaches you how to regulate your emotions and how to interact with people in a healthy way and how to tolerate distressful situations that might arise in life. The core principle of DBT is mindfulness, learning how to remain in the present moment and not judging your thoughts or situations, it teaches that thoughts and feelings are temporary and can pass so long as we do not engage with them or act upon them in a negative way. This therapy has changed my way of thinking, it has enabled me to give myself space to think before reacting to situations instead of reacting instinctively out of anger or frustration I’m now able to step back, think about the situation and calm myself before figuring out how to react. By making these changes and learning these skills and techniques, I have been able to turn my life around completely, and my fuse is definitely longer than it used to be before this!
How do you now feel, after the initial shock, about having BPD and PTSD?
It’s been almost 18 months now since I was diagnosed and I’ve come to terms with it now. I’ve realised that there are also some very positive traits to BPD, things like the ability to empathise with others, the intense emotions we experience also allow us to feel empathy. We make loyal friends and form great bonds with people and although we feel negative emotions more intensely than others, this also means we experience the positive emotions more intensely too, we don’t feel happy, we feel intense joy, we don’t just like someone we adore them! I have found that since my diagnosis I have been able to make sense of a lot of my past behaviors and things that have happened in my life, and realising that It helps explain a lot of things for me. I’ve also learned that I am more than my personality disorder, yes it makes up part of who I am, but it does not and it will not define me, I’m still me.
How have you found your recovery?
My recovery has been a long and grueling road, I’ll be completely honest, and I understand now that my recovery journey will never really truly end. I’ll spend the rest of my life in ‘recovery’, I may even relapse and need further treatment in future, but that prospect no longer scares me because I know I have the ability to recover and survive. Some of the DBT sessions have been hard and really intense, some of the skills I’ve learned have taken time to master, and one of the best things I’ve learned is that it’s ok to admit that you made a mistake and you can always try to put it right.
I just aim to always try to be the best that I can be these days, and I hope that I will carry on learning and growing as I carry on my recovery journey.
What advice would you give to someone suffering?
My advice to anyone suffering is not to suffer in silence. Find someone you can trust and reach out for help, try to build a support network of trusted family and friends and professionals if possible and try to put a crisis plan in place for emergencies, so you know who to call or where to turn in times of crisis. Mindfulness is an amazing skill to learn, and it is so helpful to be able to step back and breathe without judging yourself or your thoughts, I would advise everyone to look into mindfulness and learn what they can because I’ve found it really useful. Learning to be kind and gentle with yourself when you know you are struggling is also key, we tend to be our own worst critics and when you’re feeling low the last thing you need is to be hearing how awful you are and how rubbish you are, especially from yourself. Take time, be kind to yourself, and talk, I’ve found talking about how I feel and being open and honest has helped me massively. We see no shame in seeking a GP’s help if we have tonsillitis or cardiologists help if we have a heart attack, or a dentists help if we have a toothache, so we shouldn’t feel any shame in seeking therapists help if we have a low mood or dark thoughts.
Thank you so much, Erica, for sharing this with me and my blog. I admire your honesty and bravery for sharing your story and trying to help other people who are suffering from Mental Health problems. Thank you for your lovely advice and insightful view!
If anyone would like to chat about Mental Health I am always available. You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via any of my social media’s. I am not a professional and I cannot offer you professional advice. I can offer a listening ear and help you seek help if need be. All conversations will be 100% confidential and I will not judge you in any way. I would hate for anybody to feel alone, you are not alone. I am here for you.